Sunday, 30 September 2012

Ayinger Brewery - Celebrator Doppelbock 6.7%

Sometimes a beer just seems to fit the mood. Today this beer is spot on.
Due to a worn-out power cable failure my laptop has been out of action for a week. Now it would be trite (linked in both senses of the word strangely) to suggest that being able to use my computer again would be cause fro celebration but there are a few other things, which I won't bore you with here, that have been worth celebrating this week.
This is a dark "double" bock, ending in 'ator' as doppelbocks do, and is a "starkbier" or strong beer from the Ayinger brewery situated an hour south-east of Munich in Bavaria. The brewery states that the origins of this particular beer lie in a monk's recipe but they don't give any more information than that, so I'd better drink it to see if there's any celebrating to be had.
It pours a very dark brown, almost black with a ruby red edge and a tight creamy beige head that quickly dissipates. Plums, prunes and raisins on the nose bring to mind a rich malty fruitcake. Leaving a pleasant tingling sensation over the tongue, there's more fruitiness in the taste, especially tea-soaked raisins with a hint of cranberry, some light coffee (sweet -with two sugars) roastiness and some milk chocolate in there too. A sweet malty fruity finish leaves a slight tannic alcohol dryness on the tongue that is rather pleasing.
Almost bridging the gap between a schwarzbier and a porter this is a tasty and satisfying beer that is just what I'm looking for late on a Sunday evening which is when I'm writing this. It's quite rich with the 6.7% alcohol being noticable and rather welcome. A lager to savour indeed.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Goose Island Double Header #SupSaison

Goose Island - Sofie 2010 6.5%
Goose Island - Pepe Nero 2011 6.0%

Coming late to the party, I was unable to partake of the twitter event that was #SupSaison last night due to another family/drink-related commitment. It was organised by fellow blogger and appreciator of fine beer @Filrd , and you can read all about his intrguing Pre-Saisonathon in Macclesfield here.
When I found out that this was to happen I knew that I had no Belgian or English Saisons in my cellar, having already drunk and reviewed Ilkley Brewerys excellent Siberia in July, I contemplated buying some more. Then I remembered that last year I had procured some of Chicago brewery Goose Island's Vintage Series beers, two of which, Sofie and Pepe Nero were both brewed in the Saison style but both very different.
I'm sure you're all familiar with the history and definition of the Saison style, however just in case you need to refresh your memory you can read the Wikipedia entry here and the BJCP Style Guidelines here.
Time to drink the beer.


It pours a pale and ever-so slightly cloudy yellow-gold with a highly carbonated pure sparkling white head. The thing with Saisons generally is that they take a while to pour, but they're usually worth it. The aroma has lots of grapefruit and orange peel, but muted, as if sub-merged in Chardonnay but with a sour funky edge. Smooth, sharp and dry over the tongue, it has tart grapefruit, the bite of white pepper, some white wine sharpness, a sprinkle of sour lemon juice, a whisper of vanilla and a good dose of the funkiness you would associate with a spontaneously fermented beer. More of the tart sour grapefruit and lemon lingers long in the finish.
This really is a refreshing fruity saison in excellent condition for a two and a half year old (it was bottled on 24/03/2010) and although it states that it will mature for up to five years in the bottle I'd say it's drinking rather well right now.
Pepe Nero
Bottled 03/01/2011.
By total contrast, this pours a deep dark brown with a coffee-coloured edge and a tightly carbonated beige-brown head. There's lychee, peppery grapefruit and white chocolate in the aroma with an initial smooth then a gentle prickliness over the tongue. There's a massive hit of evaporated milk which clashes then merges with a tropical fruit yoghurt taste, certainly not what I was expecting from such a dark beer. There's some coffee notes and a hit of spicy black pepper in there too. As it warms it develops an almost a light chocolate sponge taste, served up a a mild but sour tropical fruit coulis. The aftertaste has some creamy grapefruit with some shavings of white chocolate but without the faintest hint of oiliness, and this is sustained for a good few minutes before fading into a wonderful echo.
This is a surprising and stunning beer that I first tasted just under a year ago. I'd read in Draft magazine that it was brewed as the first black Saison and I was anxious to try it, but it was too rough around the edges for me to really appreciate it. Ten months later it has blossomed into the beer that I was hoping to taste then, full, rich and rounded with every flavour and nuance pin-sharp.
As I mentioned earlier, I had these beers stored away with a view to drink them in a few years time, however due to #SupSaison I believe I might just have caught both of them at their peak. Cheers!


Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Bear Republic - Big Bear Black Stout 8.1%

When you hear the words "Bear Republic Brewery" from California, the first thing that springs to mind might be the wonderful fruity mango and tangerine IPA Racer 5 or possibly the coarse, orange, pine and peppery Hop Rod Rye, but today I've gone down to the woods for their Big Bear Black Stout.
This is an Imperial Russian-style stout possibly on the lighter side abv-wise for its type and brewed with Cascade and Chinook hops. A '... robust, deep-roasted heartiness you can sink your teeth into ...' the brewery states on the bottle, so let's get stuck in.
It pours a light-sucking inky black with the smallest of dark dark brown edges. The head is like the foam on a black coffee that has had a faint drop of milk added then whisked to perfection. Moving expectantly forward, the aroma has deliciously generous portions of coffee, molasses and dark muscavado and whisky marmalade. This beer is singing to me already, drawing me toward it with some beautiful deep dark notes. Treacly coffee with a rich orange-tinged toffee and a hint of aniseed and chilli coat the mouth with a wondrously full and an incredibly rounded crescendo of tastes. There's a tiny prickle of hoppy grapefruit served up in a spoonful of blackstrap molasses right at the end before the sticky dry finish throws in some date and caramel to add to the rest of this awesome experience.
Another fantastic beer from a brewery that never fails to amaze with the quality and complexity of their output. A dark, fruity, rich, engulfing brew that is best experienced alone, I'd say. Sit, savour and smile.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Two from:
Second largest of the Hawaiian Islands, Maui is traditionally said to be named after the son of the Polynesian navigator Hawai'iloa credited with the discovery of the Islands.
The first European explorer to see Maui was Captain James Cook in 1778. Captain Cook (tenuous link time) was married in the very church - St Margarets, Barking, Essex that I was baptised in, sang in the choir, and rang the church bells for weddings and services - although I didn't do all of those at the same time! In fact, I have seen the very marriage certificate 'in the flesh' so to speak.
Captain Cook wasn't the first to land there though, as he could not find anywhere suitable. That honour went to the French Admiral, Jean-Francois de La Perouse in 1786, on the shores of what is now known as La Perouse Bay, and ties nicely in with my first beer:
La Perouse White 5.2%
It pours a cloudy yellow with a high bright white head, but this quickly fades. The aroma has a big hit of orange and lemon squash, but orange and lemon squash made with a week solution of cream soda instead of water. There's also a hint of dry coriander and some more juicy fruity citrus notes. Over the tongue it is smooth, sweet cleansing and refreshing, making it tingle ever-so slightly. Coriander and more juicy lemony-orange flavour hit you first, but this is followed up with a sweet powdery texture fading to fresh coconut milk. The finish of soft coconut cream and orange is beautifully sweet and simply delicious.
I gave the little beer I had left at the bottom of a can a swirl around, and this brought forth a lovely yeasty sediment that I really wasn't expecting in a canned beer, and this added a more lemon-melon punch to the finish.
This is a wonderful witbier, which the brewery describes as 'Limited Release' so I assume that this isn't going to be accessible for everyone, but if you see it, buy it.
Maui Brewing Company was founded in 2005 in Lahaina, Maui, and is the islands only micro-brewery. The beer was first made available in cans in 2007, which were chosen for sustainability - key to the brewerys philosophy, lightness, durability and to preserve freshness.
Their beers have won many awards, but undoubtedly the one that has won the most, and for which they are most famous is my next beer.
CoCoNut PorTeR  6.0%
It pours a glossy dark brown, almost black, with a tawny-port-coloured edge and a sustained foamy beige head. Desiccated coconut and dark chocolate, a little like a Bounty bar is the first aroma to hit you, but it's much drier and has a hint of wood varnish, coffee and cola nut in there too. It dances over the tongue initially, before leaving a massive footprint of tastiness in the middle whilst slipping shyly down the throat. Masses of dry coconut all wrapped up in dark chocolate fill the mouth followed by a gentle creaminess and a sprinkling of cocoa powder. It manages to be tangy, sharp and bitter all at the same time. The finish has more dry chocolate and coconut but fades a little too quickly for my liking.
This may not be the most multi-dimensional beer, but it doesn't have to be. It is what it is, and it is simply gorgeous.
If you would like to you can find out more about Maui Brewing Company and their beers here.
I picked these two cans up from Utobeer in Borough Market a few weeks ago and they have been settling and chilling nicely in my fridge ever since. They are the third and fourth of the beers that I bought to try and get over my prejudice against  canned beer, and I have come to the conclusion that this method, when applied to 'craft' beers is a fantastic way of preserving subtle nuances of flavour that can be lost more easily from bottled beer.
Am I converted?
Oh yes!!



Thursday, 6 September 2012

Southern Tier - Gemini 10.5%

Gemini. One of the 88 modern constellations, associated with the twins Castor and Pollux in Greek mythology, and the second manned spaceflight of NASA between Mercury and Apollo, has a double association with space and the number two. There are also two different Gemini supervillains, one in the Marvel Universe and one in the DC Universe, and who can forget (if you are of a certain age) Johnny Morris singing Geminee Geminii about Terry Nutkin's 'pet' California sea lion Gemini.
This Gemini is from the Eastern side of the USA however, Lakewood in New York State to be exact, the home of Southern Tier brewery. Described as an 'Imperial Blended Unfiltered Ale' it is a blend of two of Southern Tiers beers, Hoppe, an Imperial extra pale ale and Unearthly, a potent Imperial IPA, the hop count is pretty impressive: kettle hops - columbus, chinook and cascade, aroma hops - amarillo, hopback - styrian golding, dry hops - amarillo, cascade, centenial, chinook and columbus. It comes in a nice big 650ml bottle, so there's plenty to share around, or keep all to yourself if you're feeling greedy, but beware of its 10.5% abv potency!
It pours a reasonably unassuming medium amber colour with a rocky off-white head, but it's the aroma that drags your nose straight into the glass and gets your mouth watering. There's some nice big resinous pine all stirred up with with some pineapple and mango fruit yoghurt, there is a real creamyness about the smell of this beer that is really inviting. Initially sharp and biting over the tongue, it coats the mouth with a gorgeous oily stickiness. A big tropical fruit butterscotch and toffee explosion is followed by a sticky chewy boozy orange gooeyness. The flavours are wonderfully rich and full - celery, mango, peach, orange blossom water and pineapple are painted liberally all over the inside of the mouth with an enormous glorious paintbrush of deliciousness. The finish has a lovely sticky dry Grand Marnier-like flavour that keeps the mouth watering in the same fashion as when you first caught a whiff of its beautiful aroma.
I've not got much else to say about this beer except -wow!!!
It is without a doubt one of the best beers I've drunk this year, and I want more, much much more.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Magic Rock - Dark Arts 6.0%
Redchurch Brewery - Hoxton Stout 6.0%

Twitter has a lot to answer for, however it does throw up some interesting challenges.
If you'll allow me a little poetic licence, I'll set the scene.
It was a dark a stormy night, rain was lashing at the windows and the sky was ablaze with lightning. Somewhere in North London Matthew Curtis aka @totalcurtis was drinking a bottle of Redchurch Hoxton Stout. Waxing lyrically about this brew from East London he had the temerity, nay the audacity to compare it to Magic Rock Dark Arts.
Somewhere in the North of England (ok the Stafford area, possibly) a certain Chris Dixon aka @ckdsaddlers was incredulous.
"Impossible!" he cried.
But Mr Curtis was adamant (not to be confused with 80s pop icon Adam Ant ).
There was only one way to decide it.
That's right, it's the Harry Hill way.
So here it is.
Hoppy stout fight club.
In the black corner we have Magic Rock - Dark Arts.
From Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, Championing the North. A self-proclaimed 'Surreal Stout' and weighing in at a 'healthy' 6.0% abv, it's the older, more established of the two. A well respected beer.
And in the, er...., other black corner we have Redchurch - Hoxton Stout.
From Bethnal Green, East London, Darling of the South. The new kid on the block, also weighing in at that 'ideal' 6.0%, and using Cascade, Chinook, and Columbus hops, it's ready to play with the big boys.
The gloves are off.
First up is: Magic Rock - Dark Arts

Pouring a heavy, light-devouringdark dark brown, bordering on black, this has just the faintest muddy milk-chocolate hint at the base of the glass, with a carbonated milky-coffee head.The aroma is a muddle of tropical coffee liquorice fruit, with a touch of freshly sanded wood and some rum and raisin fudge. Quite coarse over the tongue, the flavour is a big, all-encompassing dry coffee smack which sucks away all the moisture from the mouth. Then there is a fleeting hint of mango and pineapple with some herbal notes, quickly replaced by a lovely coffee-raisin taste with a dark chocolate and tar backing. The finish has a lot more dryness with a sticky dark-chocolate coating.
So, a good start there with lots of good form. Next up its: Redchurch - Hoxton Stout
Pouring a very similar colour and texture to the Dark Arts, it is maybe the slightest touch browner but with a much creamier mousse-like head with much finer bubbles. The aroma has a huge nose-full of herbal chocolate orange, more resinous and with a light backing of milk chocolate, rather like having a chocolate fountain bubbling away in the background. Tropical fruit punches you right in the face initially, which quickly dries into some fruity blackberry roasted coffee bean flavour, whilst some basil and kumquat hover around. The finish is dry and fruity with a late chocolate orange taste.
So there you have it. The final bell has sounded.                                                                                     
And what a close contest it was.                                                                                                            
A great fight between two surprisingly different light-heavyweights.                                                                
I have to declare a little southern bias here, Bethnal Green is an area of London I know quite well and the Dark Arts was, I would estimate a good 3-4 months older than the Hoxton, however I have had the Magic Rock beer fresher and have tried to reflect that, draw on my memory be fair and objective in my decision.                                                                                                                                       
But, I have to choose a winner, and, on points with a score of 16-15 (hey,I had to think of some numbers and these were the first two that sprang to mind) that winner is:                                    
Redchurch Brewery - Hoxton Stout
I prefer the flavour of the Hoxton, with its rounded orange-ness and being less mouth-hooveringly dry. It was close run thing though, and this is only my opinion but seeing as it's my blog then it's my opinion that counts. I'd recommend trying this comparison for yourself, and welcome your comments too.